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Happiness is an Illusion

Someone down the line told me I had a right to be happy. Perhaps I picked up the idea from the Declaration of Independence’s definition of unalienable rights. Maybe Mr. Pharrell Williams mastered sonic hypnotism and his soothing jam washed our brains. Or possibly I’m an endorphin addict and my body figured out it could bribe me to keep its own skin comfortable.

Somewhere, the idea took root: I was meant to be happy. Furthermore, anything that interfered with said pursuit was despicably inhuman.

(The cold, for example).

Something, at some point, promoted the notion that my life was supposed to be defined as “happy”. And I believed it.

A week or so ago, I was talking with a friend of mine. He’s talented, innovative, and constantly traveling. To the naive social-media-passerby, his life is characterized by a collection of exotic moments — most people only grasp one or two of the kind in a lifetime.

A thought surfaced in the lull of conversation: “I want to skip to an exciting part,” he said.

I would have been confused if my knowledge of him only went Facebook-deep. However, I’ve lived the moments in between posts. His life is just like anyone else’s, but the bigger highs make the lows, well, lower.

My friend was looking to experience the fully-packaged story his life communicates to the outside world. Instead, he is stuck taking the slow route of normalacy.

So I asked him a slightly depressing question: “What if there is no such thing?”

Humans are not content with dissatisfaction, which, if you consider, is incredibly ironic. As flawed beings, the only real thing we can experience is dissatisfaction. We are aware of a sense of perfection from some other place, but it is unobtainable in our dimensional plane. And so we’re left unfulfilled, uncomfortable, and unhappy.

When I was 17, a philosophy professor asked me if I’d rather be an unhappy human, aware of the world’s problems, or a happy, ignorant pig. The question wasn’t hard; being happy doesn’t erase the problems. I chose to be human. She seemed content in my understanding of the moral question, but I was burdened by the idea that we can’t make our own problems go away. They stem from within our flaws.

Even with this inherit awareness that we cannot escape our own disasters, we still try. We use perception to evoke the idea that we are the impossible combination of a “happy human,” both aware of the world’s problems but unaffected. Through social media, we shape our image (though perhaps this is not all bad — we cannot post our every dissatisfying life encounter — we’d break the server), and we erect celebrities to be the epitome of life as it should be.

But do you want to know a secret? They’re not happy either.

Celebrities play the role of happy pigs, untouchable and radiant. However, they’re critically aware of the gravity between the highs and lows of life. They’ve been elevated to stakes that are above the clouds of our normal awareness. So yes, they’ve “arrived” — but life followed them. If they’re perfectly happy, they wouldn’t need the drugs, eating disorders, or divorce. Even the people we pay to be happy for us are just as disappointed with their experience of existence.

Imagine if I entered a marathon then teleported from the starting line to each checkpoint and, finally, to the finish line. Did I finish the race? No, I never started it. A marathon isn’t defined by the checkpoints you hit — those are placed there to give you fuel for the hundreds of steps that make the actual 26.2 mile route. The reason running a marathon is such an accomplishment is because of the sweat and effort and discomfort in between the checkpoints.

Life is similar. The checkpoints have their value because of the exertion it took to get to them and because of the success they mark in the overall journey. Skipping to them doesn’t increase the experience’s value, but actually decreases it by eliminating the worth invested into the outcome.

Accomplishment only exists because of struggle; happiness because of dissatisfaction. It is the negative emotional experience that motivates us to move in pursuit of a perception of something better.

We dwell in faulty reality — we can never experience pure happiness. All we have is the hope that we can get close, but that hope is bred from living in heartbreak where hope was shattered by a harsh truth.

This is why we have imaginations.

Children are aware that life isn’t perfect. They might not be able tell you how, but they see our tears and name them “sad”. This is why children pretend, to protect themselves from the giant “sads” in the world they cannot begin to change. They morph a perception of the world that is based on truth and employed to be beautiful.

This doesn’t mean children live in delusion. If you’ve ever spoken to a child, you find their ideas of life are more relevant and innovative than most adults. They build off the broken toys they were handed and use them to fuel dreams.

Somewhere, we forgot how to dream in a moment. The unhappiness drowned our imaginations, and we were left empty and weaponless against the disappointments of a mangled world.

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration does not, in fact, state that we are entitled to happiness. Rather, it explains we are free to pursue happiness. We are never promised that we will “arrive” at happiness.

Mr. Pharrell’s bopping tune may be inspiring and stir some jives, but it ends — like every other momentary experience of euphoria.

And my endorphins are only desired because they’re not a constant effect. I appreciate them because they appear like birthday cakes and fireworks — only on special occasions.

Happiness cannot be a constant. It must act as a spice rather than a meat because life is not defined by a peak sensation. Life is made rich by the hundreds of steps in between: the struggle, the heartbreak, and the decision to hope when there is no reason. Life is defined by the imagination of what could be and the choice to pursue it in spite of non-optimal conditions.

Being content in dissatisfaction is all happiness can be in a faulty world; and that state of mind is entirely dependent on your perception of your circumstances. Meaning that you can decide to be happy anywhere.

Because life is a marathon, not teleportation.

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Metaphors fascinate me. Chocolate inspires me. Adventures drive me. I work in broadcast, film, graphic design, photography, and writing. If there is media and a story involved, I'm interested. I also enjoy yoga, rock climbing, horses, and any skill I haven't mastered yet.

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